Friday, February 8, 2013

The Unreasonable Movie Project (Vol. 14): Fishing For Decent Movies in the British Isles

You caught me. I didn't see Amour last night. I went to work, came home, ate dinner, talked to my wife and kids, then watched Salmon Fishing in the Yemen on DVD. I was then going to go to a 9:25 p.m. show of Amour at the Edina Theater. It didn't happen because I needed sleep. My kids' school starts ungodly early, which means I have to get up ungodly early, and I just couldn't let movies or writing keep me up past midnight again.

Don't I get points for my ambition? I was going to see two movies in one night, and I had it all scheduled. And then instead of being 90 minutes (which I admit was a guess...I didn't actually look at the run time on the disk), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen ended up being more than two hours, including the break I took to tuck in the kids, and then my schedule was blown to hell.

I was a little bit relieved actually. It ended up being a leisurely night with a leisurely movie. It was leisurely in the way The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was leisurely. Neither movie was very challenging. They both produce a pleasantly lukewarm feeling in their viewers. Expertly crafted to be sure (Lasse Hallström directed Salmon), but not too sharp or frantic or objectionable in any way. They are like that colleague of yours who is very nice, but you never bother to get to know any better. You're embarrassed to admit it, but their primary offense is that they bore you.

Both of these movies were in the Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) category at the Golden Globes this year, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is up for Outstanding British Film of the Year at the BAFTA Film Awards, happening this weekend (February 10). To quote Seth Meyers I ask, really? Really? These are some of the best films the British Empire has to offer? Where is this year's Trainspotting? Or The Bridge on the River Kwai? I'll even settle for a Four Weddings and a Funeral, for the love of David Lean. Since when did British film become synonymous with safe? Or the new word I learned recently, twee? The latest Bond film has more genuine drama.

I suppose the actors can be forgiven. Emily Blunt is capable in Salmon, and movie roles for women are so limited that it's hard to begrudge her taking the money and running. Ewan McGregor seemed to be an odd casting choice for an academic fisheries expert, but he must be shell-shocked from The Impossible and took this to calm his nerves. He doesn't seem to know how to play the role, which makes sense because we don't quite know what the movie is trying to be. Is it a comedic drama? Is it a dramatic romantic comedy? Is it a combination of A Fish Called Wanda and A River Runs Through It? It's none of the above. I am confused by it and so is Ewan. And even at 41, he seems too young to be a stodgy academic. I'm going to slap myself in the face later for saying this, but this is a Colin Firth role.


The plot centers around a rich sheikh (Amr Waked) who wants to build a river in Yemen capable of supporting salmon and salmon fishing. McGregor is a well-regarded British government fisheries expert who is recruited by Blunt to help the sheikh make it happen. Convinced it's a joke and an impossibility, McGregor is forced by the Prime Minister's press secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) to take on the project so that it will result in a positive British/Yemeni relations news story. Fortunately for Thomas, McGregor becomes more interested in the project (and more interested in Blunt) the more he works on it.

Kristin Scott Thomas is the best part of this movie, and that's sad because she has about 15 minutes of screen time. The edgiest line in the whole movie is an unexpected joke she makes about The Wire when chastising her son for wearing a hoodie, proving its never a bad idea to reference The Wire (the :44 second mark of this clip).

I don't know if I should keep writing because that's the highlight. The Wire joke was the peak. This movie is a $5.50, the lowest rating I've given so far. There's a romantic element that's not that romantic, there's an assassination attempt that's more silly than stressful, and there's a soldier character who is sent to Afghanistan and goes MIA, and if you're cheering for Blunt and McGregor to get together, you end up wishing the soldier stays missing or is dead...

But it's a feel-good movie! Really!

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